Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, Jan. 29 @ 2:57 p.m. / Local Government

Gitlin Broaches Parking Ordinance To Address Potential Rise Of 'Vehicle Villages'

Hoping to discourage the potential rise of “vehicle villages,” Del Norte County’s District 1 representative proposed a law Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to tow a vehicle left on a public street for more than 72 consecutive hours.

Citing the California Vehicle Code and saying he spoke with California Highway Patrol Commander Larry Depee, Roger Gitlin said adopting such an ordinance would allow Depee’s officers to do their jobs. Nearly all of the counties in California, apart from Del Norte, have similar ordinances, Gitlin said, which gives the CHP and local law enforcement the tools to address the “rapid growth of vehicles.”

“…especially trailers and RVs who simply pull off to the side of a road, of any public highway, right-of-way or street and create their new home,” Gitlin told his colleagues. “This wanton unchecked growth of vehicles, which I will call vehicle villages, has created a health and hygiene issue, is a public nuisance and poses traffic hazards.”

California Vehicle Code 22651 authorizes state and local law enforcement directing traffic or enforcing parking laws to remove a vehicle “located within the territorial limits in which the officer or employee may act…”

Paragraph k of that code allows an officer the ability to tow a vehicle that’s “parked or left standing upon a highway for 72 hours or more in violation of a local ordinance authorizing removal.”

According to CHP Sgt. John Crouch, who spoke to supervisors on behalf of Depee on Thursday, California Vehicle Code 22651 relates to vehicles parked on the side of the road and “just left there.” It does not apply to occupied vehicles, Crouch said in response to a question from Gitlin.

Crouch said there is also a different provision in the vehicle code defining abandoned vehicles as those that are missing tires, wheels or other major components. Vehicle Code 22651 is different, he said.

“The spirit of the law is to take vehicles off the road that have just been parked there with the intent to be left there,” Crouch said, adding that vehicles in front of family homes that are being continuously moved don’t apply in this case. “The intent is to take cars that are just left abandoned there if they don’t meet the abandoned vehicle code requirements.”

Crouch told supervisors that Depee had worked in 11 jurisdictions before coming to Del Norte and each one had an ordinance allowing the CHP and local law enforcement to remove vehicles left on a public street for more than 72 hours.

In response to District 5 Supervisor Bob Berkowitz’s question about if Del Norte County has a severe problem with vehicles left on the side of the road for that long, Crouch said his colleagues have expressed frustration at the lack of an ordinance.

“Multiple times I’ve heard officers come into the office at the end of the shift and (say) they wish the county had an ordinance,” Crouch told Berkowitz. “We can’t tow them and they don’t meet the explicit section I was talking about before.”

Berkowitz continued to question Crouch.

“It seems like a major problem,” Berkowitz said. “We’ve had RVs parked on Iowa and Temple (streets) for weeks and weeks and weeks and we can’t do anything about it. Do you think this ordinance might help?”

Crouch said he did think it would help. If the CHP received a complaint about a car parked near someone’s home, they would make contact with those residents and receive an explanation or a promise to remove the car.

The next step is placing a written warning on the car first before towing it, Crouch said. It would be up to the last registered owner to pay any fines or fees connected with removing the vehicle, he said.

Despite Crouch’s statement that California Vehicle Code 22651 does not apply to vehicles being used as shelter, two Iowa Street residents complained about people living in nearby camp trailers and RVs.

One resident, Katie Gavin, distributed pictures to the Board of two to three adults living in a camp trailer on Dakota Street that’s not hooked up to sewer or water. The trailer isn’t level, she said. The residents commonly burn large piles of trash, including plastics, Gavin said.

Gavin said she has complained to the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, but after six weeks, hasn’t received a response.

“That picture was taken six months ago… I hate to see what the next six months is going to bring to us with this problem,” Gavin said. “Numerous times, residents in the area have to call Crescent City Fire Department because there were fires started on Dakota Street, making it hard to breathe. It’s become common to see fire trucks drive down Iowa Street onto Broad Street; they know where Broad Street is.”

Another Iowa Street resident, Greg Bianchi, said he too has contacted the sheriff’s office, CHP and Del Norte County code enforcement. One vehicle, that was parked without a license plate and left empty for nearly a month, now has someone living in it, Bianchi said.  

“If he’s not in it 24-7, maybe you can move it when he’s not occupying it,” Bianchi said. “There’s the ordinance again. You got a gray area. You can move it when the occupancy is not available. And who approaches the individual and asks them if they have right sto that vehicle or to that home? Are they using it for a home or just kind of a way place, a place to hang out while they’re conducting other business in town?”

Bianchi said though Gitlin’s proposed ordinance doesn’t address people living in vehicles that have been left on the side of the road, it’s a “step in the right direction.”

District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard brought up the Pacific Shores subdivision near Lake Earl which is often a magnet for occupied or abandoned trailers that have been moved off from other areas in the county. Howard asked Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson for his interpretation, noting that crafting an ordinance in response to Vehicle Code 22651 wouldn’t impact them.

Apperson said though such an ordinance would apply to RVs, trailers without a motor wouldn’t be able to be towed under the vehicle code in question.

“Typically campers associated with the vehicle got it there and in that case, the vehicle does apply to this section,” he said.

However, Apperson noted, crafting an ordinance would be “an additional tool” his deputies can use.

“This isn’t going to dramatically change the way we do business, but it’s going to problem solve a couple of issues we can’t currently problem solve,” he said.

Another resident, Jeff Reed, also brought up Pacific Shores, which he and his wife visit often to hunt, fish and hike. He said he appreciated commitments by state and county staff to maintain the area, but noted that due to an increase in camping, those efforts have “gone by the wayside.”

“Legal, illegal, to me it almost doesn’t matter, they’re leaving a mess,” Reed said. “And it’s the mess they leave out there that, to me, is illegal.”

Reed said he supported any effort to use the California Vehicle Code to create an ordinance that would address dumping issues at Pacific Shores. He said he would also like Del Norte County to look into regulations state and federal land management agencies have developed to address dispersed camping, or camping in an area that’s not a designated campsite.

Reed said the county could establish time limits and limits to how many people could camp together. Other regulations address distances from bodies of water and disposing of human waste, he said.

“Some of the regulations that are involved in managing dispersed camping are right up the alley of what Del Norte County needs in my book,” Reed said. “These are things that are measurable and enforceable given that there’s will.”

In response to Reed’s comment, Board Chair Gerry Hemmingsen asked County Administrative Officer to bring information to supervisors at their Feb. 11 meeting about dispersed camping.



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